Proof that even a total camera spaz can learn to take good photos… a pictorial round-up of Africa

*Here is a selection of my favourite photos I took in Africa, interspersed with the story about how I got better as I went along*

As some of you may already have read, I arrived in Africa seven weeks ago with a fat Canon camera that I had no idea how to use. Frankly, it scared me, so for the first week I wilfully ignored and neglected it.

But then, in Botswana, I met Bill from Texas, and he forced me to make friends with it, this Canon EOS 40D with a 70-200 lens.

He explained the whole aperture/shutter speed/IOS stuff to me, but because it involves numbers, my brain rejected the information.

I like this picture because of the insane colour of the sky, and the figure of the plodding man

I am a complete retard with numbers.

I can’t add up. I can’t subtract. I can’t convert currencies. I can’t split bills or calculate tips. I can’t read out phone numbers correctly. The other week, I forgot the pin number for my bank card, the one I have used every day for six months. Poof. Gone. Had to get a new one sent.

My brain can be trundling along, drafting articles, working things out, generally being normal, and then someone approaches me with numbers of any sort (“what route shall we take, the A1 or the M40?”) and my brain screams to a halt. 

So I say to my brain, “Now, now, come on. This isn’t even adding up. Answer the question.”

And my petulant brain replies, “NOPE”, and slams the door.

So the fact that shutter speed is represented by horrors such as ‘1/1000’, and aperture might be an ‘f20’ or an ‘f5’ – poses a problem. 

I like this one because of how cool the wing is, obviously
I like this one because of how cool the wing is, obviously

Luckily, Bill changed the settings on my camera so that it would be more likely to capture nice photos when I pointed it at things, so I forgot everything he told me but stuck to these settings, and got some really good ones.

Then I spent a few days with my friend, and Europe’s best-selling wildlife photographer, David Yarrow. I thought this would spell a breakthrough, and that he could teach me everything properly.

When I proudly offered him my favourite photo so far, one which I think is out-of-this-world good, he basically told me it was shit, and that was that. This makes David sound like a dick. He’s not. But he makes an absolutely dreadful teacher.

THEN, I met Faizel while I was in Mozambique, at Azura’s Benguerra Island resort. And he changed everything.

This is Faizel, who taught me everything I now know about taking photos
This is Faizel, who taught me everything I now know about taking photos

Faziel is very worldly, speaks lots of languages, is an excellent photographer, and was once an English teacher.

We met late at night, just as I was plotting my decent into bedtime, so when we got to talking about my big fat camera and he offered to give me a quick lesson, my brain said ‘NOPE’. 

Maybe tomorrow, I suggested.

I’m not quite how he does it, but Faizel can read my mind. I’ve noticed this happen multiple times since.

It’s extraordinary – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t believe in god, ghosts or horoscopes; so the notion of someone being psychic makes my brain say ‘NOPE’, and slam the door.

But I’ll be sitting there, pondering something totally random and unconnected to what were last talking about (‘hmm… shall I drink that glass of water? I don’t want it to alter this perfect stage of tipsy in which I find myself’) and he will just reply to me as if I’d been talking out loud (‘drinking water does not interfere with a wine buzz’).

That wasn’t a hypothetical example. That exact sequence actually happened. I wasn’t even looking at the glass of water. How did he know that’s what I was thinking about?

This photo makes my eyes get the feels
This photo makes my eyes get the feels

So naturally, Faizel had me a pegged within ten minutes of meeting me. Lazy-brained, putter-offer, short cut-taker, stubborn procrastinator.

The best thing to do with a wayward student like me (ask any of my school teachers) is to ignore their whining, block their escape route, sit them down, and tell them to cut the crap. Kind of like how you train puppies.

Once you do that, I quite like learning. So what Faizel did was this.

He told me I was not going to bed yet, and got out a sheet of paper. Then he went through all the basics (aperture/shutter speed/ISO), writing it down as he went along so I could keep referring back to it.

I like this photo because of how tender the moment between mother and cub
I like this photo because of how tender the moment between mother and cub

When I mentioned my aversion to numbers, and how it makes my brain say ‘NOPE’, he found a different way around.

“Aperture is basically how much light the camera lets in,” he explained. Sure. Lots of people have told me that.

“So think of it like this. You’re trying to get 1,000 drunk Londoners into Wembley Stadium (Faziel always uses examples which mean something to me specifically, so I remember them better) – if you use a small door, it’s going to take you longer, right?”

“Right.” 

“If you use a bigger door, the people will flood through faster. The people are the light particles. The door is the aperture.”

I like this one because of the depth (I think)
I like this one because of the depth (I think)

My homework was to go and sit outside my villa the following morning, paper booklet in hand, and take shit tons of photos of the same thing (birds) using all the different settings.

So I did. The whole thing still baffles me. My brain still says ‘NOPE’ on a regular basis, when I’m fiddling with my aperture numbers.

But now, I trick it by turning the light particles into people and the lens into a football stadium, and if I’m still confused, I consult my paper booklet.

So the combination of Bill from Texas’ camera settings, Faizel’s revolutionary teaching approach, and pure practice, has resulted in some quite nice photos of Africa.

I’m at the end of it now, so I thought I’d share my favourites.

This one’s for you, Faizel.

I like this one because he looks like he's really thinking deeply about stuff
I like this one because he looks like he’s really thinking deeply about stuff
Those eyes, that blurry background
Those eyes, that blurry background
Those vultures, perching perfectly
Those vultures, perching perfectly
These rhinos, in a protective formation
These rhinos, in a protective formation
This vulture, sitting poetically on a dead elephant
This vulture, sitting poetically on a dead elephant
These elephants, who look wistful, and the colourless sky behind them
These alive elephants, who look wistful, and the colourless sky behind them
This bird, and how the light catches its beautiful feathers
This bird, and how the light catches its beautiful feathers
This family moment
This family moment
This yawn
This yawn
... and this one
… and this one
This arrangement, and the depth
This arrangement, and the depth
How these buffalo disappear into the dust
How these buffalo disappear into the dust
How the light caught the eye of this nursing cub
How the light caught the eye of this nursing cub
The scary look in the orbs of this kite
The scary look in the orbs of this kite
The dust, the early morning light, and the speeding safari vehicle (which looks frozen in time)
The dust, the early morning light, and the speeding safari vehicle (which looks frozen in time)
The blueness of the eyes and the blood on the nose
The blueness of the eyes and the blood on the nose
The rage
The rage
The reflection
The reflection
The colours, and the blurred background
The colours, and the blurred background
That penetrating gaze
That penetrating gaze
That tongue
That tongue
IMG_0160
The way she is lifting her paw
IMG_0186
The colour of that sunset, the shape of those trees
IMG_0368
The look of bliss

10 thoughts on “Proof that even a total camera spaz can learn to take good photos… a pictorial round-up of Africa

  1. Great photos!
    I’m visiting Africa in 3 months and wondering if my 200 mm lens is enough. I see you used the same size lens, would you recommend I go bigger or is 200 adequate for the job?

    Like

  2. Your photos are beautiful! I can so relate! I am also horrible with numbers and a trip to Africa was also my motivation to force myself to learn how to use my camera and understand photography basics. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a great teacher, but worked and worked at it with the help of two great online sources, Digital Photography School and Creative Live.

    Like

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